The FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway wrapped up the three-weekend west coast swing. This track gave the NASCAR Cup Series drivers a new test. Tight corners on a one-mile circuit are the opposite of what they were racing in the previous three weeks. With this, they also had a new short-track package to race. Smaller spoilers with a smaller splitter took downforce away from teams. With these adjustments, the excitement built up into a great afternoon of racing.
The First Stage
Chase Elliott took the first green flag of the day for the FanShield 500. His strong start set the tempo with everyone falling in line behind him. The race ran green for the majority of the first stage. However, Ricky Stenhouse Jr brought out the first caution of the day with his spin on lap 66. Everyone came down pit road for servicing, and it was Elliott winning the race off pit road.
On the following restart, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, and Brad Keselowski brought out another caution. All three drivers became tangled up in turn four. This ended the day for Ryan Blaney with Keselowski and Hamlin being able to continue. While this was happening, Kevin Harvick passed up Chase Elliott for the lead. Harvick took the green flag on the restart and held off Elliott to win stage one.
The Second Stage
Chase Elliott held off Martin Truex Jr and Brad Keselowski to hold down an early lead in stage two. An unfortunate mishap forces Elliott to pit from the lead to secure a loose tire. Brad Keselowski took over the race lead and did not look back. With a quiet stage two, Keselowski went on to take the checkered flag for the stage win.
The Third Stage
Brad Keselowski continued to lead heading into the final stage of the race. While Keselowski controlled the race from upfront, Quinn Houff’s engine blew up. Everyone came down pit road with varying strategies.
Martin Truex Jr. won the race off pit road while only taking two tires. He came back onto the track with the lead for another restart. The tire strategy did not pay off as Joey Logano quickly tracked down Truex Jr. Logano made the pass with 88 laps remaining in the race.
Logano held the lead through many more cautions and restarts which brought us to the final restart of the day. With two laps remaining, Logano and Harvick battled each other hard. However, Harvick just could not reach Logano, and Joey Logano won a heated battle in the desert.
The Cup Series is now four races into the season, and it is obvious who the early season favorites are. Joey Logano now has two wins on the year. Logano has been a factor in every race this year. His teammate Ryan Blaney has also had a strong start to the year. Despite being wrecked out early in the race at Phoenix, Blaney has been in position late to win at Daytona, Las Vegas, and Auto Club. His luck with soon turn around, and he will snag an early win in the upcoming races.
The Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing has a slower than normal start to the season. Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500, but Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Erik Jones all sit outside the top-ten in the points standings. However, all these drivers are veterans on one of the best racing teams in NASCAR. Their luck will soon turn around as well.
With the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway next week, many teams will play out some new strategies and maybe grab an early win on the year.